Creativity, Events, News

Geoff Johns, comic books and the long reach of Detroit

By M. Lapham 

Geoff Johns’ eyes were shaded and disguised by the brim of his hat, which proudly displayed the Green Lantern symbol. With that and the Triumph Tigers blazed across his chest he almost resembled one of the colorfully costumed characters he writes about in DC comics.

Over the past week or so the local media has been flooded about reports of how Johns is from Detroit and how he is the writer of a new story that may be an important part of history. You see the next person to wear the Green Lantern ring will be Simon Baz, DC Comics’ first Arab American Green Lantern.

“Simon Baz is a character of his time, reflecting the world around us,” said Johns. “The Arab American National Museum has been a great resource for me as I developed this new character and I hope the Dearborn community and my fellow Michiganders will enjoy getting to know Earth’s newest Green Lantern.”

However, those into comic books know this is hardly news. The fact is Johns has been an important name in comics for the better part of a decade, with a well-received run on The Avengers and a beloved run on the Flash. Currently, he is writing Aquaman, Justice League of America and, of course, the already considered classic-take on Green Lantern.  All the talk of Green Lantern taking place in Dearborn is only the most recent one of his comics to take place in Southeast Michigan, following in the wake of both Livonia and Clarkston.  Though many photos of him include Johns wearing a Michigan pride shirt, I’d say the media is playing catch up about facts countless others already knew.

Metro Detroit has sunk its claws deep into Johns.  I already mentioned that both Livonia and Dearborn have been locations in Green Lantern and that “Thing: Freakshow,” takes place in Clarkston, but that is hardly were the area stops affecting him.  In the recently released  graphic novel, “Batman: Earth One,” Gotham, the once glittering city in the time of Batman’s father is now a corrupt urban nightmare until Batman shows up and starts a snowball effect of people caring about (and trying to save) the city in not only a physical, but philosophical sense. To us in and around the Motor City, this all too real of a scene.

Just like Gotham, many in the outside world think Detroit is beyond salvage, but many organizations take the role of Batman trying to help.

So where does Johns come in?  When asked, he admitted to an intentional inspiration if not basis.  So through this graphic novel shipped across the country he become a sort of covert PR man for Motown. For those of us here, it reminds us to keep appreciating those who never waiver on this city.

But why does this area attract the attention of a man now living miles away in Los Angeles?

Well, perhaps to answer that one must only look at how we are portrayed in his work.  When actually named, the Michigan areas are not viewed as places where bad things happen, but rather as nice places where suddenly a bad thing happens.  The normal, almost idyllic, views of Clarkston and Livonia with a strong since of community, is a letter of a man who seems to really believe he’s lucky to be from where he is from.  These choices were not done to attract attention, but rather just because of his fond memories. When I talked with him the other day he talked about his joy at finding a place in L.A.  that sells Faygo, Vernors, Coney dogs, and plenty of other Detroit delicacies.

Food isn’t all that pulls Johns’ memories back here. It’s also how he remembers the people.  After all, Livonia was chosen because that is where he bought comics.  Johns proclaimed an admiration for the areas work ethic, something he clearly inherited giving his large list of writing projects and behind-the-scenes work at DC.

Maybe the most interesting of Johns pro-Detroit views was his mention of our people being grounded and polite… down to Earth.  Seeing as how between interviews Johns excused himself to sign a comic for a kid who attended his workshop right before, and still gave everyone interviewing him the allotted time, that may be the strongest pull of all.

In the end, I think it was something Johns said to me in comparison between the city of his origin and that in which he currently resides that best explains all this best. “In L.A. when you let someone pull ahead of you they don’t give you a wave to thank you,” he says.  It seems Johns’ connection to Detroit goes all the way down to the little things.

It seems to me whenever you ask anyone if they enjoy being “back home,” they will almost always say “yes.” It’s just good business.  But when Geoff Johns said it I truly believed it, especially given he seemed to be happy just talking about comics and seemed nothing but complimentary to us Detroiters … and his memories of us seemed crystal clear.

I’ll remember this as the day I met a comic writer, who I have enjoyed for a little over a decade, and forgot to bring any comics for him to sign.  Ain’t that always the way?  Here’s hoping he comes back to Motor City Comic Con or Detroit Fanfare one day.

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